Drone journalism knows no borders. From riots in Istanbul, to the crumbling buildings of Chernobyl, to a shipwreck off of Isola del Giglio, drones have used the freedom of the sky to cover events on the ground around the world.
Accordingly, the drone journalism community is a global one. The Professional Society of Drone Journalism is comprised of more than 340 members from more than 40 countries. Our board of directors represents viewpoints from three of those countries, but makes decisions with respect to our global membership.
In late July, the PSDJ received a request from the House Internal Market, Infrastructure and Employment Sub-Committee of the House of Lords European Union Committee, to submit evidence that could affect the regulation of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) in the United Kingdom.
The House of Lords committee offered seven specific questions for respondents to answer, but broadly, the committee wanted to understand how proposed RPAS regulations in the EU could impact commerce, safety, and privacy in the UK. Myself and Ian Hannah, our Vice President, answered the questions we felt would best serve the international drone journalism community, while also providing general information about RPAS use and regulations.
The full text of the evidence we submitted is at the bottom of the page. In the document, Hannah and I analyze proposed EU regulations and compared them to RPAS regulations in non-EU countries, and advocate for regulations that encourage safe and responsible RPAS operations while still keeping the sky open and accessible for journalists.
Monday, the committee collected testimony from UK Aviation Safety Head Paul Cremin, International Aviation Safety and Environment Deputy Director Andrew Simmons, and Andrew Horton, Senior Technical Policy Advisor, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The committee asked the aviation officials about the UK's direction in regulating RPAS in general, and also about specific privacy and safety issues presented by small, widely-available RPAS.
"The issue is not so much regulation, we believe there is sufficient regulation out there," Cremin said, adding, "When you get the box home, where is it first of all, that tells you you're buying an aircraft, let alone anything else? Because these are aircraft."
Cremin told the committee that the UK's aviation authority is in talks with "key manufacturers" to produce leaflets with information about how to operate small RPAS in accordance with UK data protection privacy laws, but did not elaborate on specific manufactures or products.
Baroness Detta O'Cathain, chair of the committee, reported feeling uncomfortable with Google obtaining and using pictures of her home for its online products.
"It didn't fill me with a sense of security," she said.
Cremin responded by discussing the pros and cons of RPAS, saying that much surveillance already is done using cars and other manned vehicles.
"RPAS will be far less intrusive than what Google have certainly attempted to do with that," he said. "It's amazing actually how much aerial work is conducted in the UK and across Europe with manned airplanes today. In terms of the environmental footprint that they leave and everything else, RPAS does offer an alternative to that, with the longer sort of sustainable hours it."
"The caliber of information is often vastly superior," he said. "There are challenges... but we shouldn't forget that manned aviation actually is carrying out a lot of surveillance today that could be provided by RPAS."
Another evidence session is scheduled for October 20, which will have witnesses Andre Clot, Centre Director, European Unmanned Systems Centre; Simon Hocquard, National Air Traffic Services; and the Civil Aviation Authority. Video of the most recent conference is below.